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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Toledo council calls time-out on Marina deal

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chinese investors are said to be "reassesing" their bid to purchase part of the Marina District on the east side of the Maumee River. Chinese investors are said to be "reassesing" their bid to purchase part of the Marina District on the east side of the Maumee River.
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In the wake of Mayor Mike Bell's announcement last week that Chinese investors had withdrawn their offer to buy more than half of the east-side Marina District, Toledo City Council Tuesday put on hold legislation authorizing the sale of 69 acres for $3.8 million.

The procedural puts the issue on hold for two weeks. Mayor Mike Bell on Friday said Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. was "reassessing" whether it wants to go forward with the deal. He also blamed council for the deal going awry.

Councilman Joe McNamara worked to keep the sale legislation on council's agenda to send the message that at least someone on council wanted the deal to proceed.

"My concern is there was a cultural misunderstanding," Mr. McNamara said. "I think it sends the wrong message to send it back to the administration."

The Bell administration announced April 8 that it had a deal with Dashing Pacific Group to sell the vacant Marina District property, with a "conditional repurchase option" five years after the sale if the property had not been developed.

The two investors who offered to buy the land, Wu Kin Hung and Yuan Xiaohona, met Mr. Bell during his trip to China last year and since have visited Toledo more than once to negotiate the purchase of the Docks restaurant complex, which has been completed, and the Marina District.

The mayor last week blamed the firm's most recent decision -- which he said threw the deal off track -- on restrictions Toledo City Council wanted to impose on the sale during a contentious April 12 hearing.

Some members of council backed a deed restriction to require that union contractors do the construction work and Councilman D. Michael Collins suggested a requirement that the city be able to buy back the property for $2 million if it at least 51 percent of the development had not been completed within two years.

Mr. Collins on Monday sent the mayor a lengthy memo pointing out that developer Larry Dillin, who had intended in 2009 to purchase and build up part of the Marina District, presented a detailed plan and was available for council to question. The Dashing Pacific Group investors have not done that.

Mr. Collins said his suggestion last week regarding the $2 million buyback was "offered simply as a starting point for negotiation."

Also in the letter, Mr. Collins wrote: "In my opinion, the discussions broke down last Tuesday when your administration used a sales approach as opposed to giving council a thorough briefing on the critical issues of what constitutes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the sale of the property to Dashing Pacific."

Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Mayor Mike Bell, said Tuesdaythat attempts have been made to keep council informed.

"The administration absolutely agrees that council has an obligation to protect public investment by performing its due diligence, however, we would argue there is a distinct difference between due diligence and attempting to regulate a free-market economy," she said. "Some of the proposals brought up in council last week are much closer to the latter of those two ideals. Further, there has been an argument made that the administration has an 'obligation to foster a relationship between council and Dashing Pacific.' I can tell you that the last time one of the parties from Dashing Pacific was in town a reception was held and council was invited. Nine of the 12 members attended."

In other business Tuesday night, council voted 10-0 to spend $25,000 to design a mooring slip at the Marina District shoreline for the preserved Great Lakes freighter SS Willis B. Boyer, renamed to its original moniker, the Col. James M. Schoonmaker,

The Bell administration is working to have the Great Lakes Historical Society move its museum and research library from Vermilion, Ohio, to the Skyway Marina and marine passenger terminal, which was developed by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. Moving the freighter is part of that plan.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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